“You know the story behind ‘David Watts’? You want my version? I hope the old boy doesn’t object. We played this concert up at Peterborough, Rutland, and he seemed like a regular old army type. “Look boys, bit of a shithouse out here, why don’t you change at my house?” I said, “Oh, thank you, Mr Watts.” But I did notice he had white socks on! Anyway, we did the gig and after the gig he said, “Would you like to come back for a little celebration?” We said, “Yeah. Why not, we’re not doing anything. Be home in a couple hours.” We had a few glasses of pink champagne and all these men kept arriving. The head of the local constabulary and detectives, all the noted people in Rutland, all men escorted by little boys! And Mick, of course, and Dave homed in on the situation. Mick and Dave were dancing and Mick’s trousers fell down, and I said to David Watts, “Don’t you fancy that big hunky drummer?” He said, “Get lost, sweetie, it’s your brother I’m after.”
“I thought, “This is the chance to get Dave set up.” We had bottles and bottles of champagne and I said, “Dave, lisen. I know you don’t write a lot of songs and you’re a bit worried about the future. Get clued into this, Dave. I think he’s in love with you.” Dave went out to the garden, they had swings in the garden, I said to David Watts, “Well, you might be all right. He’s my brother and I’m very protective of him. If there is a liason with you, friendship, or affair, I want you to ensure Dave gets half of the house!” They were sat on this swing together holding hands! Dave didn’t fancy him. Simple as that. And David Watts was a bit shattered by it. I think Dave should have taken the offer up. But he came to see us in Peterborough and he met us a few times afterwards. Whenever he heard the song he said, “You bums writing that song. You bums!”
(From Jon Savage interview with Ray Davies printed in Ugly Things #30)
Here’s where you get a hint of what kinky associations that band name may have offered those teens just discovering sanity napkins or refined older gents inclined toward dressing in white socks. There’s subtext in a number of Kinks tunes regarding the theme of the British chum that pushes the intimacy of that very male friendship: ‘Do You Remember Walter?’ is the heartache of being abandoned and forgotten by your chum, who’d straightened out and abandoned all commitments you’d made toward an adventurous life together. ‘Lola’ beat Lou Reed to the punch and made a pop hit out of a guy who is man enough to be a woman. ‘David Watts’ offers the tale of a tortured narrator who lies on his pillow at night dreaming of living the life of a successful school chum
The song itself lacks the grit of malice that infects most of Ray’s best tunes until you’re aware of the story behind the name. In that respect, Ray is being malicious twice over. David Watts, the name of an older gent Ray attempted to pimp his younger brother to in exchange for half of his house, certainly didn’t miss that when he called The Kinks “bums” for using his name. Dave wrote some of the best known and loved songs from the Something Else era – ‘Death Of A Clown’, ‘Funny Faces’ and ‘Love Me Til The Sun Shines’, and the single ‘Suzannah’s Still Alive’ – and yet Ray presents the insidious plot as some kind of benevolent act in his Dave’s interest, to provide financial security that wouldn’t come from his own song writing. In other words, Ray suggests to his brother: look, you’ll never write songs of the same caliber as me. Rather than try, why not just sit on the swings with Mr Watts here, and take it from there? And, then, creeping across the party like Iago, to whisper into the ear of Watts: look at that little piece of chicken, that ripe little buttercup, half of your house and he’s yours!
Not only that, but who is singing those beautiful harmonies? Dave himself! As if to punish him for not swinging with Watts, Ray now has him grinning like a gibbon, prancing around while Ray sings a song mocking him: “I wish I could have all he has got”. And, again, the real David Watts hears that in ‘David Watts’, and feels like Withnail & I’s Uncle Monty. Dave didn’t fancy him in real life, he got to first base holding hands but didn’t get to watch Dave removed his white socks (those white socks kill me – I picture, of course, John Waters whenever I read that interview and that particular detail, and believe me, I’ve read it enough times), but now, here’s Dave and his older pimp brother singing a song about him, mocking him. Not good enough for a root, but good enough for a tune.
This song is far from an exemplary exercise in Ray’s seething misanthropy, but it is one of The Kinks most enduring, catchy songs. The glorious back story does reveal yet another layer of Ray acting the cunt toward his bandmates and brother, the simple lesson that within the most touching tribute to friendship and the aspiration toward nobility, Ray can make mockery of intimacy and purity and beauty. Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa!
FROM LIFE STINKS I LIKE THE KINKS #1, WHICH INCLUDES PIECES FROM DISTORT #37, #41, #42 AND A FEW ADDITIONAL SCRAPS. FREE TO SUBSCRIBERS. PRINTING SOON AS THOSE 7”S ARE OUT. IF YOU’D LIKE TO WRITE OR DRAW SOMETHING FOR #2, GET IN TOUCH.
Nice & Smooth.